Estate Planning for a Blended Family
Oct. 17, 2022
Estate planning was fairly simple in the days when two people got married, had children, and spent their lives together until the end. Each spouse would create an estate planning document leaving everything to the other. When one spouse passed away, the remaining spouse would leave everything to the children in their will or estate plan.
For some people, life still is that clear cut, but for others, divorce can intervene, and even in the traditional “till death do us part” scenario, the surviving spouse may decide to remarry and suddenly inherit – or choose to create – additional family members who will need to be considered in any estate plan.
Estate planning for an extended family obviously presents challenges that would not necessarily exist in a marriage of lifelong commitment. Suddenly, there may be children from your new spouse to take into consideration. You may decide to start a new family, and the children you had from your previous marriage will suddenly find themselves with siblings from someone other than their own biological mother or father.
Juggling all the needs of a blended family can be tricky enough while you’re healthy and still able to communicate with everyone to maintain some family harmony, but what happens if you or your new spouse suddenly pass away? If you leave everything to your current spouse, they may subsequently remarry. Plus, the surviving spouse may favor their children over yours when it comes time for designating beneficiaries.
If you’re remarrying and entering into a blended family or you have recently done so, you should immediately review any existing estate planning documents or other legal instruments that designate beneficiaries. If you have no estate plan, your new reality represents the perfect opportunity to create one.
The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC, helps individuals residing in or near Redlands, California, with all their estate planning needs. The attorney at The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC, will be happy to sit with you, discuss your situation, and help you arrive at an estate plan that takes into consideration the needs of everyone in your blended family. They proudly serve clients in neighboring communities such as Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, and Palm Springs, California.
Why Estate Planning Is So Important for Blended Families
Estate planning is essential for anyone who has loved ones to provide for. Traditionally, as mentioned above, a last will and testament would likely be the “tool of choice” for estate planning and leave everything to your spouse, who will then care for your joint children and family members in their will.
This option becomes more problematic in today’s all-too-frequent blended-family reality. The surviving spouse, as mentioned, may remarry. Plus, there are no guarantees that the remaining spouse will even choose to provide for the children of the deceased spouse.
With a blended family, you may need to take extra steps to ensure that your children ultimately share in your estate when you’re gone. Another consideration, often overlooked when someone remarries, is to make sure that the former spouse, through some oversight on your part, doesn’t end up inheriting assets that now belong to your new reality.
Wills vs. Trusts in Estate Planning
A will remains important in estate planning for a blended family, even if assets have been assigned to a living trust.
A major consideration may be to use the will to designate a guardian for your children. Suppose you or you and your new spouse suddenly perish in an auto accident. The children will likely either remain with the surviving spouse or be reunited with their other biological parent to be cared for. If you don’t wish your former spouse to get the children, you can name a guardian for them in your will. A trust cannot be used to name a guardian.
Of course, you can always use your will to make immediate bequests to your children and to your surviving spouse. A will, however, must go through probate court proceedings, during which it can be challenged. The whole process can take months or even a year or more, all the while eating up valuable assets to pay expenses for the proceedings and potentially creating bitter feelings among competing beneficiaries.
An alternative legal means to provide for your children in a blended family is through the creation of a trust. In the trust, you can name a successor trustee who will honor your wishes when you’re gone. Spouses and children can each receive what you consider to be their fair share.
This trustee you name can even be an impartial professional such as an accountant, attorney or an independent institution such as a bank. Their independence will help ensure your wishes are honored. Most importantly perhaps, a trust does not have to go through probate.
When you divorce one partner and take up life with another, you need to revisit all documents related to your assets and who stands to inherit them should something happen to you. People often forget that they’ve named their ex-spouse as the beneficiary of their retirement plan or insurance policy and never upgraded the designation.
Since retirement accounts, insurance policies, and even checking and savings accounts pass directly to the named beneficiary without going through probate (you cannot use a will or trust to redesignate the beneficiary of these instruments), your ex-spouse could end up with your lifetime retirement and other savings when you pass away, even if you’ve remarried. Be sure to update all accounts with named beneficiaries.
Experienced Guidance Every Step of the Way
An estate plan needs careful consideration of everything and everyone it involves, and it’s highly unlikely that a standardized form can anticipate every potential pitfall and challenge that can accompany the execution of a will or trust.
You definitely need the guidance and advice of an experienced estate planning attorney when you’re creating and putting in place the legal documents to provide for your loved ones when you’re gone. This is especially so for blended families, where there may be rivalries and competing interests among the children of different parents.
If you’re in the Redlands area of Southern California or nearby, you can rely on the knowledge, experience, and personalized guidance of the estate planning team at The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC. Reach out immediately, and an attorney can review what you have, update it as necessary, or begin the whole estate planning process from step one.